Archive for May, 2016

One of the first things you might’ve learned in French was how to say “how do you say X in French?” I’m guessing you probably learned to say it as comment dit-on X en français? This is correct, of course, but it doesn’t sound terribly colloquial.

Maybe you’ll remember from past posts that colloquial French avoids the inversion after question words like pourquoi, où, quand, comment. You’re not very likely, then, to hear comment dit-on…? in colloquial French.

During a conversation, someone asked me this very question in French. He wanted to know how to say blé in English. Here’s how he asked me the question:

Le blé en anglais, on appelle ça comment?
How do you say blé in English?
What’s blé called in English?

You’ll notice that the question word comment doesn’t appear until the very end. It’s possible to move it forward, but in this case there’s a high probability that you’ll hear a que get slipped in after it in colloquial language: le blé en anglais, comment qu’on appelle ça?

Just be aware that comment que is considered by certain people to be faulty because codified French doesn’t accept it. This means its use should be limited to informal language situations. At any rate, it’s not necessary for you to adopt comment que as a learner of French; the first example above (on appelle ça comment?) is fine for you to use in colloquial situations.

You’ll find more posts about comment que here. For example, we’ve already seen the question Oignon, comment qu’on écrit ça?, meaning how do you spell oignon? In this question, of course, comment que can also be avoided by moving comment to the end: Oignon, on écrit ça comment?


The OffQc book C’est what? will help you get your bearings in the colloquial variety of French spoken in Québec and pave the way for further independent study. You can buy and download it here.

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During a conversation that took place in Montréal, a woman said in French an equivalent of this: “Buy him some chocolate; he likes that.”

Here’s how she said it:

Achètes-y du chocolat ; y’aime ça.
Buy him some chocolate; he likes that.

Achètes-y? What the woman said is an informal equivalent of achète-lui du chocolat, il aime ça.

In achète-lui (buy him), she contracted the lui to ‘i (shown above as y).

But that’s not all:

In codified (standard) French, the s of the imperative achètes drops before lui, which is why it’s achète-lui, and not achètes-lui. But when the contracted form of lui is used instead, the s is retained in colloquial language: achètes-y, and not achète-y. This means the contracted ‘i (or y) really sounds like zi (achète-zi).

achète-lui: codified French
achètes-y (achète-zi): colloquial French

In the second part of what she said, she contracted il to i’ (shown above again as y).

il aime: codified French
y’aime: colloquial French

Further reading:
Contracted  French

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A woman who was making a phone call hung up when there was no answer on the other end. In French, she an equivalent of: “There’s no answer. Is this the right number?”

To say that there wasn’t any answer, she used the verb répondre. Here’s what she said:

Ça répond pas. C’est-tu le bon numéro ça?

The expression ça répond pas is the one that’s always used to say that there’s no answer on the other end. You can understand ça here as meaning the same thing as on.

If you were talking about a telephone call you’d made yesterday and we’re telling someone about it today, you could say instead ça répondait pas, there was no answer.

The question c’est-tu le bon numéro ça? means the same thing as est-ce que c’est le bon numéro ça? The tu after c’est transforms the sentence into a yes-no question, in an informal way.

Bon here means right, correct. Le bon numéro, the right number. La bonne adresse, the right address. La bonne réponse, the right answer.


Refresh your French or get caught up: The OffQc book 1000 Québécois French is a condensed version of all the language that appeared in the first 1000 posts on OffQc. You can buy and download it here.

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I went through the last dozen posts on OffQc, pulled out key expressions and vocabulary, then rearranged it all into this dialogue for review. (If you squint your eyes and plug your nose, it almost sounds like a real dialogue, with a surprise ending and all.)

Enweille! Qu’est-ce tu fais? C’est pas l’temps d’niaiser!
J’gratte ma guitare, man…
— Ah, c’est l’fun, hein?
Pas tant qu’ça. J’file pas… J’peux-tu t’bummer une smoke?
— Euh… non.
T’es ben gratteux, toé. Enweille, donne-moé une smoke. J’te niaise pas. J’ai un paquet d’problèmes! Mon restaurant spécialisé en grilled cheese a été vandalisé.
— Ah, ok. Bon ben… c’est pour ici ou pour emporter?
— Quoi?
Tes Timbits, c’est pour manger ici ou pour emporter?
— Ah, ouais… mes Timbits… euh, pour emporter… merci…

— Come on! What’re ya doing? Quit wasting time!
— Strummin’ my guitar, man…
— Ah, that’s fun, huh?
— Not really. I’m not feelin’ good… Can I bum a smoke off ya?
— Uh… no.
— You’re so cheap. Come on, give me a smoke. I’m not kidding. I’ve got a whole bunch of problems! My restaurant specialised in grilled cheese was broken into.
— Ah, ok. Right so… is it for here or to go?
— What?
— Your Timbits, are they for here or to go?
— Oh yeah.. my Timbits… uh, they’re to go… thanks…

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During a conversation, a man said in French an equivalent of “I’m not really bothered by it.”

(For example, imagine you’d just bought a shirt or some other item and there was a small defect in it, but nothing so great that you felt the need to return it. You might say “I’m not really bothered by it” in this situation.)

Can you guess how the man managed to render the idea of not really here without using pas vraiment?

Here’s what he said:

Ça m’dérange pas tant qu’ça.
I’m not really bothered by it.
I’m not bothered by it so much.
I’m not too bothered by it.

In pas tant qu’ça (contracted form of pas tant que ça), que loses its vowel sound. The contracted qu’ sounds like a k. To say pas tant qu’ça, first say pas, then say tant with a k sound on the end of it, then say ça. The contracted pas tant qu’ça has three syllables: pas / tan’qu’ / ça.

— C’est l’fun, hein?
— Pas tant qu’ça!
— It’s fun, huh?
— Not really! Not particularly!


The OffQc book Contracted French takes a detailed look at high-frequency contracted forms similar to the ones above (ça m’dérange pas, c’est l’fun, pas tant qu’ça) and helps you pronounce them like a native speaker. You can buy and download it here.

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In #1124 (un paquet de gens) and #1125 (gratter la guitare, starter), we looked at some French taken from an edition of the Montréal newspaper 24 Heures. In fact, there’s one more bit of language from that same edition to look at.

In an area of Montréal called Hochelaga, a restaurant specialising in grilled cheese was broken into. An article tells us un petit restaurant d’Hochelaga spécialisé en grilled cheese a été vandalisé.

The perpetrator managed to steal only 100 dollars from the cash register. The owners say it was probably un «petit bum» qui avait besoin d’argent pour consommer de la drogue.

[Source: «Leur restaurant vandalisé après une semaine d’ouverture» (Frédérique Giguère), 24 Heures Montréal, 13-15 mai 2016, vol. 16, no. 44, p. 14.]

Un bum (sometimes spelled phonetically as bomme) is what’s also known in French as un voyou, un délinquant, un bon à rien — someone who does nothing with his life or gets up to no good.

This gave rise to the verb bummer (or bommer), which might be used in the sense of lazing around doing nothing (passer son temps à bummer) or in the sense of “bumming” (receiving) things from other people rather than paying for it oneself (bummer quelque chose à quelqu’un), like a cigarette (une smoke, une cigarette).

J’peux-tu t’bummer une smoke?
Can I bum a smoke off you? (In other words: Can you give me a cigarette [because I don’t have any of my own to smoke]?)

J’peux-tu means the same thing as est-ce que je peux. The tu here turns je peux into a yes-no question. The contracted j’peux sounds like ch’peux.


The OffQc book Contracted French will help you to make sense of the most frequently used contractions heard in spoken language and increase your understanding of what francophones are saying to you. You can buy and download it here.

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A guy in his late 20s, in Montréal, was waiting for his girlfriend to get out of the car. When he couldn’t wait any longer, he went over to her window and said an equivalent of this in French: “Hurry up! What’re ya doing?”

Can you guess how?

To say hurry up, he said: enweille! As an approximation, this sounds like the French word en followed by the English word way. In colloquial language, it can be used to tell someone to get a move on, as in hurry up, come on, let’s go. (In other contexts, it can also be used to encourage someone, as in come on, you can do it.) In informal writing, you’ll see it spelled a number of different ways: enweille, anweille, enwèye… In some forms of literature, you’ll occasionally see it spelled envoye when used in a character’s informal dialogue, but it’s still pronounced enweille.

As for what’re ya doing?, he didn’t quite say qu’est-ce que tu fais? Instead, he said qu’est-ce tu fais?, with que omitted. Qu’est-ce sounds like quèss, or like kess using an anglicised spelling. His question, then, sounded like quèss tu fais? This is a colloquial usage; you’ll often hear this occur in questions using tu: Qu’est-ce tu fais? Qu’est-ce t’as dit? Qu’est-ce tu veux? Qu’est-ce t’en penses? That last one means what do you think (about that)?, what’s your take?, where t’en is a contraction of tu en. In full, the question is qu’est-ce que tu en penses?

So, altogether, here’s what our guy said:

Enweille! Qu’est-ce tu fais?


Get caught up: The OffQc book 1000 Québécois French is a condensed version of all the language that appeared in the first 1000 posts on OffQc. You can buy and download it here.

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